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Putin Calls For Firm NATO Pledge on European Missile Interceptors

Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered his government to continue pressing NATO to provide a firm pledge that U.S. missile interceptors planned for fielding in Europe will not be aimed at Russian ICBMs, RIA Novosti reported on Monday (see GSN, May 7).

In his decree, Putin directed the Russian Foreign Ministry to "consistently maintain Russia's position towards the creation of global U.S. missile defense system, push for guarantees that it will not be aimed against Russia's nuclear facilities." Putin reassumed the Russian presidency on Monday (RIA Novosti, May 7).

The Kremlin fears next-generation U.S. interceptors planned for deployment in Europe over the next eight years could be aimed at undermining the Russian strategic deterrent. The United States and NATO insist their envisioned ballistic missile shield is focused on protecting against a possible medium-range missile strike from the Middle East.

NATO Deputy Secretary General Alexander Vershbow in an interview with Russia Today said U.S. political realities would make it very difficult for President Obama to offer a legally enforceable pledge on the usage of U.S. interceptors in Europe.

"President Obama, when he sought the ratification of the new START treaty made some very specific commitments to the Senate to get that treaty through," Vershbow said. "He said the U.S. will accept no limits on its ballistic missile capabilities. And President Medvedev had to make similar deals to get it through the Dumas. Political leaders need to understand that no one has ability to overwrite the will of their parliament."

The deputy secretary general reaffirmed the allied position that U.S. interceptors intended for fielding in Europe would not have the technical capacity to threaten Russian ICBMs.

"It is really about the facts, about the science, about the capabilities of the system that NATO is developing with the strong contribution from the United States," the alliance's No.2 official stated. "We remain convinced that there is no danger to the Russian strategic nuclear force. Not today, not 10 years from now. And that the Russian analysis is based on a series of worst-case assumptions and unrealistic assumptions that creates an image of a threat which really does not exist."

Moscow is especially worried about later generations of the U.S. Standard Missile 3 interceptor that are planned for deployment beginning around 2018 under Phase 3 of the Obama administration's "phased adaptive approach" for European missile defense.

Vershbow attempted to explain why even future generations of the SM-3 would not be a match for Russian continent-spanning ballistic missiles.

"The NATO system cannot fire, that’s today system and the system we might have 10 years from now, until the ICBM that it’s targeting has finished its powered flight -- until the engine burns out. And only then it is going into ballistic trajectory," he said. "By the time it happens, if we are talking about the Russian system, it will be too far to the north. NATO might fire, but it will be chasing the tail of that missile all the way until it crashes into the Arctic Sea."

He called for the former Cold War adversaries to collaborate on missile defense.

"There is a threat out there that is significant today and will be growing by the end of this decade. More and more of Europe, including European Russia, will be within range of ballistic missiles, possibly equipped with nuclear weapons or chemical weapons. So, if we cooperate, if we can link our systems, plan together, have our experts working together 24-hours-a-day, I think that Russia can overcome its concerns and become a real full partner of NATO on missile defense," Vershbow said.

Cooperating with the alliance should assuage Russian worries about the interceptors, Vershbow told the Russian news channel. "The cooperation itself, we think, is the best guarantee. Come inside of the structure, participate in the planning, learn more about the system" (Russia Today, May 8).

NATO has proposed establishing with Russia two separate but connected antimissile frameworks in Europe that would exchange data on missile threats but retain independence in decisions to fire missile interceptors.

Putin also directed the Foreign Ministry to "proceed from the fact that any negotiations on strategic nuclear weapons cuts are possible only with a view to all of the factors that have influence on the global strategic stability." Moscow maintains there is a direct link between missile defense and the principle of nuclear deterrence, RIA Novosti reported (RIA Novosti).  

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